February 11, 2009
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State Bulldogs know they have to overcome the experience factor for the LSU Tigers if they are to claim a victory today.
Even though the 7 p.m. matchup is at the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum, the Bulldogs know the Tigers have the veterans to deal with a tough environment.
"There can''t be a more experienced team than LSU," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "They''ve got balance and great experience to go with that balance. They''ve got three fifth-year seniors, they''ve got a fourth-year junior, plus two other seniors so you''ve got five seniors. That''s like a football roster."
The three seniors in LSU''s starting lineup are guards Marcus Thornton (20 ppg) and Garrett Temple (6.9 ppg), and center Chris Johnson (8.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg). Sophomore guard Bo Spencer (11.5 ppg) and junior forward Tasmin Mitchell (15.6 ppg), the SEC Player of the Week, round out the lineup.
Mississippi State (16-7, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) doesn''t have a senior in the starting lineup.
"All of those guys (at LSU) know how to play and know how to win," said MSU sophomore guard Phil Turner. "They have a great coach and they are used to winning at LSU. That''s one thing when they put on the uniform like we do, they take a lot of pride in it. There''s nothing like experience."
Turner said the Bulldogs are not going to be intimidated by the Tigers (19-4, 7-1).
"Even though they are an older team, our young guys have no fear," Turner said. "They feel they''ve played just as long as a senior or junior."
Turner (8.4 ppg) starts at guard, along with freshman Dee Bost (10.5 ppg), sophomore Ravern Johnson (12.4 ppg) and junior Barry Stewart (11.1 ppg). Junior Jarvis Varnado (12.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg) is the center.
Despite MSU''s youth, LSU coach Trent Johnson respects its ability to make shots.
"The way they are shooting the ball from the perimeter, we''d better be prepared to guard them as soon as we get off the bus," Johnson said. "They''ve got five guys in double figures in Johnson, Bost, Stewart and Turner who really stretch you on the perimeter. They are getting a lot of contribution from guys coming off the bench, then of course there is the guy in the middle (Varnado) who changes the way you play offensively. He can change shots, alter shots and block shots.
"It''s another situation where we have an opportunity where if we can compete and play at a high level, we have a chance to be in the game. Mississippi State is probably playing as well as anybody in our conference."
The Tigers dealt the Bulldogs their worst loss of the season (81-57) in Baton Rouge, La., earlier this season.
"We got hit the mouth harder than anyone has hit us in the mouth," Stansbury said. "We know LSU is a physical and tough basketball team. We''ve got to be ready to step up to that challenge."
Stansbury hopes he can get enough production to counter anything that Thornton does for LSU.
"You break it down and look at the consistency of what he''s done, he''s probably been the most effective guard (in the SEC)," Stansbury said. "He''s as difficult to guard or more than (Kentucky''s Jodie) Meeks because of what they do offensively. He''s on a roll offensively and he can manufacture shots. He can take a play when there is no play and score."
As dangerous a threat as Thornton is, MSU doesn''t want its focus to be on just one man.
"If you get to worrying about one player too much someone else will hurt you," Turner said. "We''re going to go in and play our game."
1. New Hope boys' basketball falls in Class 5A playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Starkville boys denied return trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. West Lowndes boys earn third straight trip to Jackson HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS